Plan your website – Basics to get you started
You have your domain name, hosting package and design software and are ready to create your own website but are not quite sure where to start. We have therefore compiled a basic guide demonstrating the key factors to look out for when planning and creating your website. This article will be useful for anyone wanting to create their own website, particularly for business purposes, but will also be useful if you would like to create your personal website or enhance an existing website.
These are some of the essential factors that you should think about when planning your website, they will be key to successfully achieving the best results:
+ Usability and visibility
- Easy site navigation
- Clear communication
The challenge to creating your own website is to have as much usability and visibility as possible, even though a trade off between the two will often be required. A great looking website alone will not deliver successfully if it is not “visible”. Similarly, if your website is poorly planned & designed, it is unlikely to be a winner however much it is promoted and marketed. Website design and its marketing are very closely linked.
One of the most important factors in the success of your website will be formulating a website design strategy. To ensure that your preparation for the website is heading in the right direction, you need to ask yourself a number of basic questions. These questions are important regardless of whether your website is new or already established.
1. What is the purpose of your website?
2. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
3. How is income going to be generated?
4. What are your capabilities and how will you use them to maintain a competitive edge?
The answers to these questions should determine your content strategy and site architecture. By formulating your strategy intelligently and planning ahead, a great deal of time can be saved in avoiding redesign or the wasting promotional marketing. Remember to include all the features you want right from the beginning, including a blog or photo album for example.
You should be completely clear regarding the initial objectives and purpose of your website, which should be:
- Clear, focused and specific
- Feasible and tailored to your specific target audience
Make sure people can find important sections with ease and include basic elements such as a search box and site map. You don’t want people to have to search around too much, otherwise they might leave. Always put yourself in the position of the prospective visitor to your website.
Below are some best practices for a website layout:
- Keep your master header and footer the same on all your pages.
- Keep your navigation in the same place on each page.
- Navigation is usually in the masthead or on the left (under the masthead), or both, depending on the amount of content you have.
- Build in decent sized margins between the main sections of content.
- Ensure your homepage leads logically into the different areas of your site.
- Try not to make your pages too long.
- Use common sense – step into your visitor’s shoes.
- Keep blocks of text (paragraphs) small, but ensure the font size you use is big enough so that it is still easy to read.
- If you are going to sell a product or service, make sure you make it easy for people to purchase from you. Have your phone number near the top of the page and some sort of call to action, e.g. call now!
Navigational links can be considered the most important part of your website for two reasons:
1. Search engines use them to spider your site
2. Visitors use them to find content
There is always going to be a trade-off between accessibility and usability. Accessibility is about making the web pages usable to all users; however, you should never compromise on the visibility of your web page. Traditionally, the navigation menu is placed in the header area of each web page or along the left side of the web page; usability studies have shown that this is where users instinctively look. However, as long as your navigation menu is consistently placed and easily identifiable on each page, it should not matter too much where you place it.
Web accessibility means making your website available to all, regardless of ability or disability. The WAI introduction to accessibility is a good starting point for this topic. For sites providing public services, the UK DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) law comes into force, and websites are therefore required to be accessible. For more information about accessibility, the RNIB also has a good overview of the DDA.
Testing your Web Pages
Make sure to test your website on all major web browsers: Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Netscape, Safari, and Opera. The best way to test your web pages is to download and install the version you want to your own computer. If you have difficulty downloading a particular browser to your PC, try Browsercam, which will allow you to preview your website live in different browsers. This is a second best option as you would not be seeing your site first-hand as a visitor would see it; however, it is still very useful tool.
Testing your site is a vital step towards finalising the design process. You will not know how to maximize your design without testing it properly – hardly anyone gets it right the first time!
Once your site is tested and you are happy with your strategy, layout and design – it’s time to go live and enjoy your results. Ask your customers for feedback as you will always find things to improve.
Have fun planning and designing your site and if you want to know more about specific areas of website design, let us know.